arepp:Theatre for Life

Tuesday, 27 March, 2007 - 14:57

Developing Resilient Youth through Self-Efficacy Education Since 1987 arepp:Theatre for Life has played a pivotal role in raising awareness about issues pertinent to human rights in poor communities.

Developing Resilient Youth through Self-Efficacy Education

Since 1987 arepp:Theatre for Life has played a pivotal role in raising awareness about issues pertinent to human rights in poor communities. Arepp is a performing arts NGO that uses theatre and puppetry to provide interactive, social life-skills education to school going youth, with the goal of developing their resilience.

In the past twenty years, the organisation has evolved from being a predominantly community based educational trust, with the aim of using theatre and puppetry to provide social life-skills education to disadvantaged communities to being an edutainment NGO that supports children in poor communities – helping them to make informed decisions regarding HIV/AIDS, discrimination, abuse and rape.

“During Apartheid, we were an education NGO at a time when the government was doing nothing for HIV/AIDS education,” says Brigid Schutz, Co-Director of arepp:Theatre for Life:Theatre for Life.

When it was first conceptualised in 1987, the organisation was known as the African Research and Educational Puppetry Programme (Arepp), an adult awareness programme on HIV and AIDS. During this time in South Africa’s history, HIV/AIDS posed a threat that had not yet been fully realised. The little information that was made readily available to the public was not 100% accurate or in most cases was disseminated through fear techniques. To counteract this, arepp:Theatre for Life established a project Puppets Against AIDS, which was an educational puppet show about HIV/AIDS, with the aim of taking the HIV/AIDS message to the people in the street.

In the mid 1990s the organisation started working in schools and dropped its adult performing programme in 2001. In an ideal situation, arepp:Theatre for Life would operate nationally using theatre presentations and trained actors to support school children in poor communities with supplementary self-efficacy education. However, due to funding constraints, arepp:Theatre for Life has had to shorten its reach nationally and now only takes its services to six of the country’s nine provinces.

Resident Puppeteer with Many Hats
Schutz has been with the organisation since 1993 when she joined the organisation as a Technician and Stage Manager. She has been a Workshop Coordinator, where she was greatly involved in design and puppetry training of the actors and conducting puppetry and drama training workshops for other organisations and in other countries, and then moved into a managerial role. In the time between then and 2000, when she was appointed as a Co-Director, she has moved around quite substantially in the organisation getting the feel of the organisation from ground up.

Before joining arepp:Theatre for Life, Schutz worked with a number of theatre companies, including Out of The Box, The Royal Puppet Company and The People’s Theatre. It was her deep passion for puppets and their power to touch and change people’s lives that brought her to arepp:Theatre for Life.

Schutz appraises South Africa’s development challenges within the context of the country’s education system. She holds the view that teachers’ in South Africa’s schools are problematic, arguing that their level of education is poor.  Referring to surveys that the organisation conducts at schools, Schutz contends that “The level of writing of learners is sometimes better than that of the educators.”

Although she does acknowledge that this may be attributed to the historical background of most of the teachers who are a product of the Apartheid system, Schutz maintains that the education system must be further enhanced to produce better teachers. She calls for more teachers with talent and interest rather than people who find themselves teaching as a last resort.

Rights Based Approach Reinforces Learners’ Rights
The organisation uses a rights based approach to raise awareness through theatre, i.e., it focuses on issues that highlight human rights. The aim of the theatre productions is to develop the learners understanding of their rights and assist them make informed choices and develop resilience.

Each theatre presentation highlights and encourages debate around issues of identity, rights, relationships, discrimination, gender, homosexuality, pregnancy, peer pressure, sex, substance use, HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted infections, violence and physical and emotional abuse. “We show a model of what the world should be like through theatre,” states Schutz.

arepp:Theatre for Life theatre projects have three components which include the actual production (play), a post presentation discussion and the provision of follow up support to the schools.

When performing at schools, plays are presented in the context of learners. They are age-group and language specific, including the use of slang language to increase identification with the children. The characters featured in the productions also foster identification and emotional recognition from the children.

Schutz elaborated that after every play, there is a facilitated peer discussion which encourages debate and an understanding of the issues covered in the play. Performers are also trained in front-line counselling in the event that learners raise personal problems that require special attention.

According to Schutz, the final component in the programme is the longer term support provided by arepp:Theatre for Life, which provides support to the school in the form of a follow up lesson plan and a list of  support organisations in the area.

Familiar Funding Grievances
In spite of its enormous growth and success over the years, in the last couple of years arepp:Theatre for Life has faced a few challenges that are very similar to the ones faced by other NGOs in South Africa.

”We have always been fortunate to get quite large, long-term funding contracts,” says Schutz. However, these fortunate circumstances resulted in the organisation being heavily reliant on donor funding and when the money was no longer forthcoming arepp:Theatre for Life found itself in the same shoes as other NGOs post 1994 – the funds were slowly drying up.

To overcome this challenge, Schutz states that arepp:Theatre for Life has had to down-size its projects and the number of people that it works with. “The number of actors we have at a time is funding dependant,” reiterates Schutz.

Step in the Direct Direction
Despite the funding challenges that arepp:Theatre for Life is currently facing, Schutz is optimistic that the organisation will persevere, “We would like to continue providing the service that we do on a larger scale,” she says. 

Her ultimate goal is that the organisation should continue to be seen as a major player within the field of edutainment. To do this, Schutz realises that arepp:Theatre for Life has to make itself a household name within South Africa and possibly regionally. This, she says, will be accomplished through the consolidation of the organisation’s projects and the dissemination of the organisation’s information.

Pictures: Courtesy of arepp:Theatre for Life.

- Badumile Duma and Fazila Farouk, SANGONeT.

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